May 24, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy (20) celebrates with left fielder Jayson Werth (28) after his fifth inning two run home run off New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey (33) (not pictured) at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
With 2016 now in the history books, the District On Deck staff looks back at the best Washington Nationals moments from 2016
2016 was a fun season for the Washington Nationals. Although they missed out on achieving the ultimate goal of a World Series championship, the Nats still won 95 games, won their third NL East title in the last five years, and played a competitive five game National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
As 2017 is now here, the Nats will hope to make the postseason for the first time in an odd numbered year. They appear to be one of the favorites once again in the National League, but everyone remembers how 2015 turned out when the Nats were one of the favorites to reach the World Series. Before we look ahead, let’s take one last look back at 2016.
When looking back at some of the top moments of the year, we wanted to give you the perspective of everyone on the staff. The fun part of getting thoughts from each of our writers is that we all have our each unique moment from the season that stands out to us, whether it be an individual game or a specific moment that happened within a game.
Before we reveal each writer’s specific favorite moment, we want to wish all of our readers a Happy New Year and we hope that you stay with us here at District On Deck for all of your Washington Nationals news and opinions during the 2017 season.
First up on our staff is Rob Shrum, who talks about a memorable 16-inning marathon that the Washington Nationals had against the Minnesota Twins from back in April:
Apr 24, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals center fielder Chris Heisey (14) gets a bucket of ice water dumped on him by Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon (6) while being interviewed by MASN reporter Dan Kolko (L) after hitting a walk-off home run against the Minnesota Twins in the sixteenth inning at Nationals Park. The National won 5-4 in sixteen innings. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
16-Inning Marathon Against Minnesota
There were many great Nationals games in 2016, but the 6-5 win over the Twins was the mother of them all. In fact, Dusty Baker himself called the April 24th game, the “craziest game he’s ever seen.”
The game had more than its fair share of ups and downs, including a leadoff homerun from Matt den Dekker and a pinch-hit homerun from Bryce Harper in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
The winning moment might have never happened if not for a surprise bunt from Oliver Perez in the 15th inning which allowed Danny Espinosa to get the tying score and keep the game alive.
By the time Chris Heisey walked up to the plate in the bottom of the 16th, the fans had already been sitting through what would be the longest game in team history. Heisey’s blast to centerfield was the first walk-off for the Nationals in 2016 and sealed a hard-fought win that really set the tone for Dusty Baker’s Washington Nationals.
There was a never-say-die spirit to the game and you could sense that the players were really enjoying the game – a vibe that was missing in the previous two or three seasons. After this epic win, it felt like the sky was the limit for the 2016 Washington Nationals.
Batting second is Robbie Stratakos, who talks about the National League clinching win in Pittsburgh back on September 24:
Sep 24, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo (L) and manager Dusty Baker (12) celebrate in the clubhouse after clinching the National League Eastern Division Championship by defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. The Nationals won 6-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
A Night Of Celebration
The Nationals entered the 2015 season with high expectations, thanks to their signing of CY Young pitcher Max Scherzer; however, they disappointed many. They finished the year just 83-79, coming in second place in the NL East behind the New York Mets; the Mets would go on to play in the World Series, and after their World Series appearance, many expected then to run away with the division in 2016; that didn’t happen.
The Nationals maintained a comfortable lead in the NL East throughout the year, and won the season series versus the Mets, thanks to Daniel Murphy‘s uncontainable bat. By winning the season series, and dominating the rival Mets, the Nationals proved themselves as the team to beat in the division.
On September 24th, the Washington Nationals played the Pittsburgh Pirates, and they accomplished a great feat that night. Thanks to 5.1 innings pitched out of the pen by Reynaldo Lopez, and a 12 hit night from their lineup, the Washington Nationals officially won the division thanks to a Mets loss to the Phillies. It was a night of celebration, and revenge. After being knocked off and in a way forgotten, the Nationals took back what was theirs – the NL East.
In the third spot, we have Ricky Keeler, who talks about a wild night on and off the field back in May against the Tigers:
May 9, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) reacts towards home plate umpire Brian Knight (not pictured) as first baseman Clint Robinson (25) is greeted by teammates after hitting walk off homer against the Detroit Tigers during the ninth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Nats Win The Night On And Off The Field
Back on May 9, the Washington Nationals began a three game home series against the Detroit Tigers. Stephen Strasburg got the start for the Nats, but that wasn’t the main story that night.
To everyone’s surprise, including mine, it was reported during this game that the team and Strasburg had agreed on a seven year, $175 million contract extension. Normally, Scott Boras clients don’t do extensions before they reach free agency, so this was a major shock.
During this start, Strasburg did give up a pair of home runs, but he had his moments of dominance as he struck out 11 batters over seven innings and he even picked up a base hit.
Facing a 4-1 deficit heading into the bottom of the sixth, the Nats fought back against Anibal Sanchez. Daniel Murphy had three RBI’s in this game, including a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth. This past season, it seemed Murphy always found a way to come up with the big hit in the big spot.
Later in the game, with the score tied at four in the bottom of the ninth, the on-field drama began. Danny Espinosa struck out to start the inning. After the strikeout, Bryce Harper was ejected while in the dugout by home plate umpire Brian Knight.
On the second pitch after the ejection, Clint Robinson hit a walk-off solo home run to right to seal the victory. Harper would end up coming out of the dugout to celebrate and yelled swear words at Knight. He would end up serving a suspension because of the incident.
This game had all the on and off field drama you could ask for, which makes it my favorite moment from the 2016 season. Batting cleanup is my fellow co-editor, Ron Juckett, who has his own perspective on the NL East clincher:
Sep 24, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; The Washington Nationals celebrate in the clubhouse after clinching the National League Eastern Division Championship by defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. The Nationals won 6-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
A Sigh Of Relief
As the new kid on the block, my finest moment of the season came watching the celebration after clinching the division in Pittsburgh.
Washington has worn the label of division favorite for years. Although the third time in five might seem as if they had been there and done that, the mix of relief on the players faces and in their voices, as they drowned poor Dan Kolko with that nasty beer and champagne mix, told a different story.
Yes, they were excited to return to the playoffs. Sure, the business of the season remained undone.
For those moments, however, the team as a whole had the chance to relax and take everything in. You could see them as a group go back in their minds to being kids again and how good it feels to be the best.
We all know how rare it can be.
On that night, they were a unit of one, joined in celebration and determination. They praised each other and manager Dusty Baker. The emotion was genuine.
It told me a lot about the future of the team and how unflappable they are. It bodes well as we head into 2017 that the next level of success can be reached.
Wrapping up our favorite moments is Matt Weyrich, who talks about being at Game 2 of the NLDS against the Dodgers
Oct 9, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton (59) is congratulated by third base coach Bob Henley (13) after hitting a three run home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fourth inning during game two of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
A Postseason Game To Never Forget
I make an effort to go to as many Nats games as I can every year. Back when I was afforded the luxury of long, lazy summers, I’d hop on the Metro and ride over to Nats Park a couple times a month.
This past season, however, I spent a majority of the year either in college or working a full-time job. It only meant all the more to me after missing so many games that I was able to go drive up to D.C. for the Friday night NLDS Game 1 between the Nats and Dodgers.
Now the Nationals didn’t end up winning that game, but what happened later that weekend made the trip very much worth it. Game 2 was supposed to be played the following day, but my dad and I had been unable to secure tickets. However, a poor weather forecast forced StubHub to lower the prices. My dad, brother and I each bought tickets before the impending weather prompted the MLB to postpone it to Sunday.
At first pitch, the weather was beautiful. The three of us had seats on the first base side with a great view of the ballpark. Corey Seager hit his second first inning homer in as many games, and Josh Reddick brought Justin Turner around to score on a RBI single in the third. The Nats, meanwhile, were struggling to get anything going offensively.
Enter the bottom of the fourth inning. Washington had yet to lead so far in the series, but that was all about to change. Daniel Murphy led off the frame with a walk, but back-to-back fly outs by Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman didn’t give any of us much hope for scoring that inning.
Danny Espinosa then stepped to the plate and was promptly hit by the first pitch he saw. That brought up Jose Lobaton, who was doubted by many — myself included — for his ability to fill in for the injured Wilson Ramos. He silenced the critics in the biggest way he could, by crushing a go-ahead home run into the left field seats that sent Nats Park into a frenzy.
The loudest I’ve ever heard that stadium was when Jayson Werth hit the walk-off home run in the 2012 NLDS Game 4 against the Cardinals, but this came pretty close. Washington would remain in the lead for the rest of the game and the crowd was electric. The Nats may not have advanced deeper into the playoffs, but that was a day I’m never going to forget.